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When The Problem Is Your Phone

Loneliness is going around. But where is it coming from?

Not your climate, not your job, not your diet: it’s your phone.

This idea has trended for years. “Phones are killing us!” stories say. “Stop using them!” Still: we all use them. We don’t listen. We want to wallow in our disjointed interconnection. How silly we are.

The New York Times is on it, wondering something we all have been wondering: are we in the middle of a health epidemic of loneliness? Consider this, the story muses, after pointing to society’s pushing for individualism as one of two causes.

The other possible cause is the rise of communications technology, including smartphones, social media and the internet. A decade ago, companies like Facebook, Apple and Google pledged that their products would help create meaningful relationships and communities. Instead, we’ve used the media system to deepen existing divisions, at both the individual and group levels. We may have thousands of “friends” and “followers” on Facebook and Instagram, but when it comes to human relationships, it turns out there’s no substitute for building them the old-fashioned way, in person.

We all know this. We have this thought written as an op-ed on the back of our hands, if not already on our phones. It’s been said every day, at every hour, at every minute since 2010. We know this.

But there is something to this. Former employees of Facebook and Google are working to combat the maladies created by these products. They’re concerned with how much power these companies have but also the effect on our minds and bodies. Again, from the New York Times.

The effect of technology, especially on younger minds, has become hotly debated in recent months. In January, two big Wall Street investors asked Apple to study the health effects of its products and to make it easier to limit children’s use of iPhones and iPads. Pediatric and mental health experts called on Facebook last week to abandon a messaging service the company had introduced for children as young as 6. Parenting groups have also sounded the alarm about YouTube Kids, a product aimed at children that sometimes features disturbing content.

Accordingly, experts are calling for less addictive and to kill messenger apps for kids. An economy has emerged in forcing people to disconnect at social events. In my own reporting, I’ve spoken with experts who are legit scared of addictive tech. Not because the loneliness that comes with it but because they’re designed like drugs – and the side-effect is loneliness. It’s a vicious cycle of want, want, want and more, more, more that isn’t harming you in a way that narcotics do but in a way that hinges on capitalism and repetitive behavior in a void. Dangerous minds, as they say.

I don’t think I have any of these problems – but I am aware that these problems exist. I have turned my phone gray to see what it does and thought that was silly but am intrigued in a week long smartphone detox to boost creativity. I love social media, I love technology, but I don’t love the side-effects of longing, of forgetting, of needing to pick something up that reflects your empty double chin.

Why do we torture ourselves? Yes, we are sad but we could be so much happier.

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